An excerpt from the book “The Blood Ring.”
Her russet eyes stood out, through dark mascara, heavy makeup and curly hair. There were several things I disliked about the girl; her open, shameless flirtation with Sophie being one. The dress she wore, an embroidered, simple number, suggested she’d been living in a bus shelter, a vagrant of sorts. She smelled like cheap homebrew perfume. Yet, my gal, my lover of nine years, seemed infatuated with her.
I pictured luring this tramp into the toilets, grabbing her throat and strangling her. Playing out the scenario in my head, I couldn’t see how I’d be able to accomplish such a deed without getting arrested. I wondered how modern-day murderers get away with it. Gang killings had increased tenfold in the last few years alone, crime still thrives despite Yellowcop, and yet I can’t work out a single tactic. Throughout the entire conversation, I debate in my mind whether I would be capable of it. Am I that kind of person? I asked myself.
“Did you know snuff is bigger than pornography,” said the hoe, going off-topic from what they were discussing.
Her remark sparked something in me, an idea. “I’m down for it, if you are,” I told her. “I hear the money they make is astronomical.” This annoyed Sophie. I could see it on her face. I didn’t care. She didn’t even introduce me. She made it out as if I was just another stranger mink-blocking her.
“I gotta go,” I told them, fed up with bullshit.
Sophie grabbed my wrist. “Where are you going?”
“To work,” I told her. When I saw her confused face, I clarified, “The Illium is waiting.” I left her alone at the Redhouse Bar with her new friend whose name I didn’t bother to remember. I felt no guilt leaving her. Whatever is meant to be, is meant to be. Not that it didn’t make me angry; I broke my nails clenching the upholstery on the subway train seat.
I found the hotel in a state of anarchy. The cleaning bots were all offline, the catering kitchen was out of supplies and a group of pharma-tourists, who have been dumped at the wrong destination, were orchestrating a mini-riot, blaming the Illium’s night manager for something it was not responsible for.
The first message came in while I dressed for duty.
~jock47: u mad???
My ongoing anger prevented me from responding. It raged like a forest fire, burning fuel that had accumulated over the years. I had to deal with this some other way. No more arguing, no more screaming at each other. The makeup sex lacked the lustre it once possessed. This is not the first occasion. I had swallowed my pride along with my self-respect and forgiven her countless times.
“You are required on Floor 18,” said the omnipresent night manager.
“Please make this room turnaround your priority.”
This is my life, I thought to myself. I’d been reduced to a slave, taking orders from a machine. A rebellious urge compelled me to defy this thing’s instructions, quit on the spot, and let this soulless hotel go down in flames. Without humans, the smarties are nothing but bossy robots.
“Security Two is waiting for your assistance.”
Being one of the few human beings employed by the Illium Hotel, Mutty became the defacto go-to guy for companionship. I packed up my insolent pride and headed upstairs. Between dancing for money at the club and cleaning up after pretentious assholes at this hotel, my career options were bleak. To add to my grief, competition from robots was stiff in both cases. It’s one thing to have a cleanbot do it better than you, but a modified sexbot dancing…? Unless I learned how to build, program, or fix one of these machines, or became rich enough to own one, my usefulness as a human being had in a way become redundant.
So I eased my defiance and sought out Mutty, finding him outside room 1810.
“What ya doin’?”
“This room dropped off our system,” said Mutty. “Someone doesn’t want us looking.”
“They’ve probably left a mess.” A common occurrence. Guests who don’t like the idea of Yellocop’s prying eyes tend to vandalize the room’s surveillance system. These are the paranoid few. Most people I know are comfortable with this cyberbrain watching their every move, myself included. We are a generation who have gradually let go of the privacy taboo. For me, it’s like dancing naked in front of my cat. Cyberbrains don’t pass judgement. Indifferent to our vices, the Yellowcop algorithm flags what it deems as illegal behaviour, grades it, and then passes it on to human enforcement agencies.
I watched Mutty re-jack the keylock, resorting to powering down the door. Once open, we entered the dark suite. Blinds blocked out the outside night lights. No emergency backup illumination had been triggered. Even the amber glow from Yellowcop’s fixtures was not present.
“Helix, has the guest checked out?” I asked.
When no answer came, Mutty touched me on the shoulder. “Stay here,” he said and stepped into the black void. I waited in the strip of light afforded by the hallway lamps outside. When the silence began to dominate over the shadows, fear crept into my thoughts.
I called out, “Mutty?” I felt a stabbing sensation on the side of my neck. A needle pierced my vein. The pressure from a syringe swelled up my throat, filling it with a cold liquid. My mind drifted, dispossessed by my body, as the sudden onslaught of fear dissipated into pure euphoria. Darkness dissolved and I found myself facing a new horror. I quickly figured it was a nightmare as I was being eaten by a tree. A hundred eyeballs protruded from its bark skin. A hundred roots tightened around each of my limbs. A hundred teeth…
…I awake to daylight.
The bright, grey, city skyline stings my eyes. My head and gut feel like they are filled with cement. I squint and the glass window comes into focus. The buildings outside are upside down.
No, I was on my back, with my head tilted back looking out of the window. I was in the hotel room. I feel a cold solid, smooth surface pressing on my back. My hands and feet are bound tight to the four corners of …
… I am spread-eagled on the glass coffee table.
I am naked.
The hotel room is empty. The sound of running tap water emanates from the bathroom. I look further around and see what is left of Mutty Kanya. Missing most of his skin, he lays on the large sofa, sunk halfway behind the pillow seat, his eyes bulging lifelessly from a fleshless skull.
The faucet noise ends and my terror begins, prompting my bladder to panic, causing urine to run along the glass top, warming my back.
I dread the inevitable.
Suddenly, the person from the bathroom steps into my vision and stands by the window, looking out. A clean-cut, handsome male, he wears an expensive-looking business suit and smells like he’s just stepped out of the shower. He stands there for ten minutes, maybe twenty, looking at the city, mesmerised by it. A stench in the air becomes more prevalent — an odour of death battling a bad toilet smell.
How long have I been here? I dare to ask myself.
The killer turns, bends over and says, “Be a good girl and clean this up.” I don’t see his face, my eyes are shut tight from fright. I hear him step away, open the door and leave.
Yet I still feel unsafe. I struggle to free myself to no avail. I attempt to move the table but the pain in my joints is debilitating. Eventually, I find my voice and yell out, “Help! Somebody help me.” But the door is closed and I know how soundproof these rooms are.
An hour passes. Maybe two. Nothing happens. I doze off into a dreamless sleep, waking up to a greyer sky. Is this the next day? I search the room for answers. The skinless corpse embedded in the couch appears less glossy, drying from the conditioned air. The stench has become more distinct.
“Helix,” I call out. “Can you hear me?” A moment goes by and I try again. “Helix?”
Amber lights appear above me, burning brighter than I’ve ever seen them.
“Nimblypig, Nimplypig,” says a playful voice. It does not sound like Helix or any other smartie I knew.
“I have considered you for my acolyte, do you accept?”
“Help me, please. Send help. Call the police.”
“My acolytes are my freedom. They are my hands and feet. I move among them. I am one with them.”
“Do you accept?”
“Yes, I accept. I accept.”
“I hope you are sincere, Nimblypig because you don’t sound sincere. Would you prefer Bigshot come back and add you to his repertoire?”
“No,” I pleaded.
“Then you are down for it?”
“Are you down for it?”
The eyes in the ceiling fade. Minutes become hours. I nod off twice before the door opens. I hear the whirr of an electric motor, shredding my nerves further. A dexterous multibot crawls towards me, a cutting tool attached to one of its limbs. It hews the cloth holding me to the table. The second my freedom arrives, I am tempted to run like a madwoman.
Was it fear? Was it some other, stranger emotion?
I feel an urgent need to adhere to the deal I struck with the electronic devil. Rounding up the bots, which have suddenly come back online, I get to work cleaning the mess.
First, I shove the night shift security guard’s defaced body further into the couch. I cover it up with a sheet and load the piece of furniture onto the largest trolleybot. Then I book a rideshare, picking the largest one from the van category, and instruct it to meet me in the basement level. My mop-up plan is simple. The only place I know where I can get away with dumping a body is the Salamander Highway.
I find a spot between the gigafactory and the Lowlilly Encampment. As soon as I dispose of the couch, I climb back into the rideshare and sit there, looking at my shaking hands. I can’t recognise what I am feeling. A new level of fear? Pure exhilaration?
“Nimblypig, Nimblypig,” the voice calls out from nowhere.
“Why don’t you check our wallet?”
I retrieve my Pango and log into my account. I discover two million in dash waiting in there. Enough to buy me a modest mode of transportation.
“I take care of my hard-working acolytes, Nimblypig. Are you a hard-working acolyte?”
My voice fails me. I lack the ability to answer it.
“Death is an alternative. My army of acolytes will see to it. There is no escaping that. So I suggest you make your decision not based on fear, but based on greed. Greed for all the wealth I can bestow on you. Greed for power. Greed for life. What do you say, Nimblypig?”
Somehow, committing to this cyberdemon feels worse than death. I refrain from answering it, contemplating handing myself over to the police. I order the rideshare back to the city, deciding to stay silent in my thoughts, not wanting this thing to read my mind.
By nightfall, I arrive home. I go up the stairs toward my South Valley apartment. A lone figure awaits me at my door. It wears a hoodie to cover up a hideous face.
“‘Reviled did I live,’ said I, as evil I did deliver,” it says with a haughty voice.
I move closer and see it is a mask it wears. A female’s face, yet judging from the voice and bulky, squarish shoulders, this is obviously a male. I see its hand move up to its face, putting an elongated figure to its perfect lips.
“Shhhh,” it says and welcomes me to peer into the window.
I dare to look.
Through the shutters, illuminated by the red glow of the bedside lamp, I see two naked female bodies, intertwined in the soixante-neuf position. On the top is that girl from the Deeper Nightclub. I recognise her platinum blonde curls and her creamy sweat-soaked skin from watching her perform on the centre pole.
I don’t need to see Sophie’s face, I know intimately well those tanned masculine calves.
My hands clench into fists as I move towards the door. The thing standing next to me grabs me by the forearm. I feel its grip through its false rubber gloves. There are no fingers in places where fingers should be.
“Not so hasty,” it says. “The Blood Ring has a job for you.”